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Sri Lankan medicine shortage a death sentence for some, doctors say

A shortage of medicine caused by an economic crisis in Sri Lanka could soon cause deaths, doctors said, as hospitals are forced to postpone life-saving procedures for their patients because they do not have the necessary drugs.

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Sri Lanka imports more than 80 percent of its medical supplies but with foreign currency reserves running out because of the crisis, essential medications are disappearing from shelves and the healthcare system is close to collapse.

At the 950-bed Apeksha cancer hospital on the outskirts of the commercial capital, Colombo, patients, their loved ones and doctors feel increasingly helpless in the face of the shortages which are forcing the suspension of tests and postponement of procedures including critical surgery.

“It is very bad for cancer patients,” said Dr Roshan Amaratunga.

“Sometimes, in the morning we plan for some surgeries (but) we may not be able to do on that particular day … as (supplies) are not there.”

If the situation does not improve quickly, several patients would be facing a virtual death sentence, he said.

Sri Lanka is grappling with its most devastating economic crisis since independence in 1948, brought about by COVID-19 battering the tourism-reliant economy, rising oil prices, populist tax cuts and a ban on the import of chemical fertilisers, which devastated agriculture.

A government official working on procuring medical supplies, said about 180 items were running out, including injections for dialysis patients, medicine for patients who have undergone transplants and certain cancer drugs.

The official, Saman Rathnayake, told Reuters that India, Japan and multilateral donors were helping to provide supplies, but it could take up to four months for items to arrive.

In the meantime, Sri Lanka has called on private donors, both at home and abroad, for help, he said.

‘Tremendous fear’

Doctors say they are more worried than the patients or their relatives, as they are aware of the gravity of the situation and the consequences.

Referring to the ubiquitous queues for petrol and cooking gas, Dr Vasan Ratnasingam, a spokesman for the Government Medical Officers’ Association, said the consequences for people awaiting treatment were so much more dire.

“If patients are in a queue for drugs, they will lose their lives,” said Ratnasingam.

The mother of Binuli Bimsara, a four-year-old girl being treated for leukaemia, said she and her husband were terrified.

“Earlier, we had at least some hope because we had the medication but now we are living under tremendous fear,” the mother said.

“We are really helpless, our future is really dark when we hear about a shortage of medicines. We don’t have money to take our child abroad for treatment.”

Indian authorities delivered 25 tons of medical supplies, along with other aid, on Sunday, officials said.

“At no time has India assisted any other country to this extent … This is something for which we are deeply grateful,” Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, G.L. Peiris, said at Colombo’s port as he stood by a vessel bringing in thousands of sacks of supplies.

“This is probably the most difficult period that Sri Lanka has had to face since independence.”

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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